Apple loses Samsung device ban bid in US

The company has failed to win preliminary injunctions against Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and three Android smartphones, as it could not convince the judge it would win at full trial

Apple has lost a bid to gain a temporary injunction against four Samsung Android devices in the US.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Apple has an effort to gain a temporary ban on Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and three other Android devices. Photo credit: Bonnie Cha/CNET News

Californian district court judge Lucy Koh dismissed the application on Friday. Apple had tried to argue that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet and the Galaxy S 4G, Infuse 4G and Droid Charge smartphones should all be taken off the shelves immediately.

"This ruling confirms our long-held view that Apple's arguments lack merit," Samsung said in a statement welcoming the ruling, according to Bloomberg . "In particular, the court has recognised that Samsung has raised substantial questions about the validity of certain Apple design patents. We are confident that we can demonstrate the distinctiveness of Samsung's mobile devices when the case goes to trial next year."

Preliminary injunctions are a familiar feature of the ongoing, global battle between Apple and Samsung that began in April, when Apple accused Samsung of 'blatant copying' of the iPad and iPhone. The US company has secured a temporary ban on three Galaxy Tab tablets in Germany, and is now trying to get a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1N, introduced as a workaround to the ban on the original Galaxy Tab 10.1. A ban on the device in Australia, meanwhile, has been extended until Friday.

These preliminary injunctions are only supposed to be granted where the complainant has a very good chance of winning at full trial. Although they are only temporary bans, the fast-moving nature of the smartphone and tablet markets can make such injunctions the kiss of death for specific products.

Patent infringement

In the US case, Apple was trying to gain its preliminary injunction on the basis of Samsung's alleged infringement of four patents — three design patents and one technical patent covering "list scrolling, document translation, scaling and rotation on a touchscreen display".

Koh noted in her judgment that her court did not yet have all the evidence it would need to establish that Apple would win at full trial. Samsung is arguing that the patents are largely invalid due to obviousness or prior art. Specifically, Samsung has brought up the spectres of Knight-Ridder's unproduced 1994 tablet design, which looks very similar to the iPad that was introduced in 2010, and HP's decade-old TC1000.

The Korean firm also says Apple's patented designs are so minimalistic that they describe functionality rather than ornamentation — if design is dictated by functionality, it cannot be the subject of a valid US design patent. For example, Samsung has noted, the design patents supposedly protect the fact that the iPhone is small enough to be comfortably held in a hand, has a large screen and has the speaker placed where the user's ear would be.

Even where Koh conceded that Samsung probably is infringing on some of Apple's design patents, she said Apple had not proved "more than a mere possibility of future harm". Preliminary injunctions are only supposed to be granted where there is a real likelihood of irreparable harm if a ban is not immediately in place.

In October, Apple suggested to the court (PDF) that Samsung could avoid infringing on its iPhone designs by not making rectangular phones; not putting the screen on the front of the phone; adding "substantial adornment" to the fronts of their phones; and not having bezels around the screen.

Apple's suggestions for a non-infringing tablet include, again, a non-rectangular shape, front surfaces that are not flat and that have substantial adornment; avoiding making the tablet thin; using thick rather than thin frames around the screen; and introducing a "cluttered appearance".

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